Shingu City is part of Wakayama Prefecture located on the Kii Peninsula. Easy access from Kyoto and Nagoya makes it a worthwhile trip to get out of the big cities.
While Shingu City has a modest population of approximately 29,000 people, the amount of restaurants and historical sights, registered as World Heritage Sites, is certainly not lacking. From fresh sushi to grilled eel and even fermented fish, this town certainly knows good food. It is known that the delicacies of the entire Kumano region could be found in this city, which is why many Tokyo residents and shopkeepers have relocated in search of perfect fresh ingredients.
Since Shingu City is not big, it is easy to move around by bicycle which can be rented at Shingu station if necessary.
To start off, one of the great sushi restaurants can directly be found across Shingu Station. This restaurant is about 70 years old and is located around the corner of Jofuku park, hence the name Jofuku-sushi. The traditional dish of this restaurant is Sanma sushi. Sanma is fish caught in the Kumano Sea. This fish lacks fat and can easily be stored, making it perfect for an easy healthy meal. The raw tuna served in this restaurant is eaten fresh, thus without being frozen, as it comes from a nearby local town called Katsuura. Katsuura Town is known for having the largest amount of mature fish in Japan. Another special served by this restaurant is Kumano beef sushi, while sushi is usually eaten with fish, this dish is certainly one to try as well. Beware of not stuffing yourself too much while visiting this restaurant as there’s plenty other foods yet to discover around Shingu City.
Location: 2 Chome-1-9 Jofuku, Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture 647-0020
Jofuku Park is approximately 5 minutes walking from the station and can be found just around the corner of Jofuku-sushi. The park is fairly small but embodies a deep history befitting for a quick stop. The park is dedicated to the legend of Xu Fu (Jofuku) and his 7 senior retainers. In the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) China court sorcerer Xu Fu first arrived at the Asuka Shrine looking for the elixir of eternal life. Although Xu Fu didn’t found the elixir of life, he did find a plant good for stomachache and pain relief effects. The tea leaves of this plant make up for a great warm cup of tea, especially on a rainy day.
Location: 1 Chome-4-24 Jofuku, Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture 647-0020
Right before the entrance of the Hayatama Taisha shrine is another lovely healthy sushi restaurant. Although there’s plenty of sushi around Japan, you don’t get to eat sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves as often. This traditional shop presents their main dish with Salmon and Mackerel sushi, while also serving soba noodles. The interior of this shop is cosy and makes you feel as if you were visiting a home instead of a restaurant. The tableware were all passionately handcrafted including extra thin chopsticks never seen before. Make sure to get your hands on this sushi before you go to the Hayatama Taisha Shrine.
Location: 1-1-8 Kami-honmachi, Shingu, Wakayama, 647-0003
Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine
One of the most important shrines around the Kumano Kodo and is known as being part of the Kumano Sanzan (three sacred shrines). The shrine itself is surrounded by nature, and walking towards the temple a giant sacred tree named “Nagi no ki” can be spotted quite easily. This tree is over a 1000 years old and a symbol of Shingu City. If you’re visiting Shingu or walking the Kumano Kodo, this spiritual place is known as a must see.
Kumano Taisha Boat Festival
Every year on the 16th of October the Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine has an annual festival. In this great spectacle 9 boats will race to Mifunejima Island and circle around it 3 times before docking at the shore. After the race a red boat containing an omikoshi (portable shrine) will circle around the island transferring the divine spirit of the Hayatama Taisha Shrine. They will then bring the shrine ashore and have a light prayer ceremony. This ceremony feels very spiritual in which your mind will become at ease.
Location: Shingu River
Tohochaya: Ayu Nare Sushi
This place is known for another special type of sushi called narezushi (fermented sushi). This sushi is made with salted sanma and tastes quite different from your day-to-day fresh sushi. Other than this sushi, this shop also presents a special dish containing 30 year old fermented fish. Although this dish has its strong odors, it is said to be tasting like cheese and the taste can even be addicting after a few bites. This unique delicacy goes well with Japanese sake. The place is excellent for culinary adventurous people and great to top off your evening.
Location: 2-2-12 Yokomachi, Shingu City
Related to the Hayatama Taisha Shrine is the Kamikura Shrine. This shrine can be found on top of a hill containing 538 stone steps. At the start these steps can go as high as 45 degrees and might look a bit intimidating, however coming to the top awaits a spectacular view of Shingu City. If the weather is good and you're in for an overnight stay at Shingu, you can even watch the sun rise from the sea from this spot. A lot of the locals do that on the first of January to see the first sunrise of the year. The shrine itself is next to a big holy rock named Gotobiki Rock. This rock is the sacred body of the Kamikura Shrine and is said to be the place where the god of Kumano first descended upon earth. In February there is a very manly festival where men with torches will run down these steep stone steps in the dark. Though this festival is quite manly, it is available for everyone to see. Be sure to get a peek at from this magnificent view.
Naka-kooriten: Local Kaki-goori (shaved ice)
The ideal stop for an afternoon delight. Although cold at winter, this shop is open all year from the early mornings. The shop is well known amongst the locals and around summertime everyone will stop by at least once to get their luscious piece of frozen shaved ice cream.
The ice is made from water of the Kozagawa River. The process of freezing takes about 3 days and the cubes weigh well over a 100kg (220 lbs). With their ultra sharp machines they will shave the ice so soft that it will melt as soon as it hits your tongue. The various flavors will lead you into a sweet heaven. The recommendation is their special watermelon ice-cream which actually contains more than just one flavor.
Location: 551-12 Shingu Shingu Wakayama
Fresh domestic eel grilled over ubame oak charcoal, the official tree of Wakayama Prefecture. The shop has its own top-notch secret sauce which will leave you wondering how to get your hands upon their recipe. This long-standing restaurant used to be frequented by the famous Haruo Sato (Japanese Novelist who wrote the “Song of Sanma”) and is now visited by the rest of the locals. Great recommendation for lunch-time and a well-fulfilling dish that will leave you with a smile. The restaurant has a very traditional appearance and the legacy of the restaurant continues in their dish.
Location: 2-3-5 Motokajicho, Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture
However the oldest shrine in the Kumano area, this shrine is the newest heritage site and is a sub-shrine of the Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine. The temple is related to the legend of Xu Fu as it is mentioned that he and his men first landed here upon his journey to find the elixir of eternal life. If you’re at the temple, be on the lookout for headmaster Nishi. He speaks English and you can catch him playing on his Japanese flute, playing one of his personally beautiful spiritual flute songs.
Location: 1 Chome-2-25 Asuka, Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture 647-0022
If you’re a real sweet tooth, you definitely need to drop by Matsubaya: Amanogawa (Milky way). The sweets in this shop are carefully handmade over a multi-day process. The taste is extraordinary with a transparent hardened sugary outside and a soft colorful inside filled with adzuki beans. In fall they also have a limited edition filled with chestnut. This shop is therefore great for Omiyage. The store closes whenever the sweets are sold out so be sure to get one and share some!
Location: 2 Chome-6-2 Funamachi, Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture 647-0002